Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week offers clinics, workshops throughout state

To provide legal assistance to veterans and in honor of Veterans Day on Tuesday, this week has been deemed Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week, which consists of a multi-organization pro bono initiative coordinated by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

Through Friday, veterans can access civil legal services at clinics and workshops held and staffed by legal aid organizations, law schools, and private law firm attorneys around the state. Additionally, a statewide live chat via Texas Legal Services Center will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day this week so that veterans can privately message with a pro bono attorney.

For more information on Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week and to find an event in your area, go to http://texaslawhelp.org/veterans or http://texaslawhelp.org/resource/texas-veterans-legal-aid-week-activities.

Foundation celebrates pro bono week, honors legal aid advocates

Texas access to justice leaders marked the start of the weeklong National Pro Bono Celebration on Monday with tributes and awards to attorneys, legislators, and organizations that make legal aid a central part of their work.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation presented the awards during a luncheon with the Texas Supreme Court in Austin. The event coincides with national pro bono week (Oct. 19-25), an American Bar Association initiative to highlight the need to protect and expand access to justice through volunteer civil legal services.

Attorneys provide more than 2 million hours of free legal or indirect services to low-income Texans each year, the equivalent of about $500 million, according to the University of North Texas Survey Research Center. But for every 11,000 Texans who qualify for legal aid, there is only one legal aid lawyer, according to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. The luncheon honored those who are working to address that need.

Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, who returned to private practice in 2013, received an inaugural award named in his honor.

Jefferson, a vocal advocate for pro bono, designated funds remaining in his officeholder account for access to justice, said Justice Eva Guzman, the court’s access to justice liaison. In presenting the award to Jefferson, Guzman announced the creation of the Legacy Challenge: Reserves to Preserve Justice campaign, which will encourage other public officials to designate funds left in their officeholder accounts to benefit pro bono efforts.

Other award winners appear below.

  • Former Sen. Robert Duncan and Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sarah Davis received Legislative Hero Awards for their work in the Texas Legislature to advance access to justice.
  • The State Bar of Texas received the Harold F. Kleinman Award for its work in helping to create the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and its continued support of access to justice efforts. State Bar President Trey Apffel, President-elect Allan DuBois, and Executive Director Michelle Hunter accepted the award.
  • The State Bar’s Construction Law Section received the Access to Justice Award for its continued financial support. Since 2007, the section has donated $245,000 to the foundation to support civil legal services.
  • Independent Bank, PlainsCapital Bank, and Preston State Bank received the Prime Partners in Justice Award for being prime partner banks who provide extraordinary interest rates through the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program.

The luncheon also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, the state’s leading funder of legal aid. The Supreme Court created the foundation in 1984 to administer the then-new IOLTA program. Since that time, the foundation has awarded more than $410 million in grants to organizations throughout the state that provide civil legal aid to the poor.

In a keynote speech, Austin attorney William O. Whitehurst, who served as State Bar president in 1986-1987, praised the court and the foundation for creating a national model for supporting access to justice: “It has led the way for us all and has done it hands-on.”

Pictured: Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, right, accepts the inaugural Wallace B. Jefferson Award from Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht and Justice Eva Guzman on Monday during a Texas Access to Justice Foundation luncheon in Austin.

Pro Bono Volunteers Receive Training in Austin

From Sept. 3-5, 2014, approximately 43 attorneys from across the state met in Austin at the Texas Law Center to receive training and share ideas as part of the annual Pro Bono Coordinators Retreat, put on by the Legal Access Division of the State Bar of Texas.

The retreat aimed to give the attendees—who are responsible for coordinating pro bono efforts for their firms, corporate legal departments, legal aid groups, and local bar associations—the interpersonal and leadership skills they need to work effectively and efficiently with clients and volunteers. Coordinators learned about innovative pro bono models, fundraising strategies, and policy trends that are being used around the state and country. They also brainstormed tried-and-true as well as new strategies and planned events, such as the American Bar Association’s pro bono celebration, taking place Oct. 19-25, 2014, in various locations nationwide.





According to Cathryn Ibarra, a program attorney for the Legal Access Division, nearly 5.8 million people in Texas qualify for legal aid but legal aid organizations are able to help only about 100,000 of them—or 20 percent—each year. “Legal aid has only one lawyer for about 11,000 Texans who qualify,” said Ibarra. “When you compare that to the fact that there is one private lawyer for every 400 Texans, it’s a pretty stark picture. Participation in pro bono programs is a critical part of the delivery of civil legal services. These coordinators play a vital role in this process.”

Ibarra said that highlights from this year included a pro bono “Jeopardy” game, a session on fundraising presented by award-winning grant writer Amy Price of Bat Conservation International, and a screening of American Winter, an HBO documentary film about eight families experiencing unemployment and struggling to get by before receiving help from a social services nonprofit.

For more information on volunteering as a pro bono attorney, go to texasbar.com/legalaccessdivision.

Family Eldercare's Larson honored with 2014 Boots on the Ground Award

Austin attorney Christine P. “Chris” Larson is the 2014 recipient of the James B. Sales Boots on the Ground Award. 

The annual award, which recognizes exemplary pro bono or legal services program attorneys, was presented May 13 in Austin during the 2014 Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans. The Texas Access to Justice Commission hosts the event, which is cosponsored by the State Bar of Texas. 

“I’m obviously honored by this award and grateful that the commission values all that is involved in working with a population that cannot speak for itself,” said Larson, the director of guardianship estate services at Austin’s Family Eldercare, which provides essential services to seniors, adults with disabilities, and caregivers. “I love what I do and the clients I have the opportunity to advocate for. I work with an incredible group of people at Family Eldercare who are just as passionate as I am for the work we do.” 

Larson oversees the organization’s estate services program, which provides legal protections to indigent, severely disabled, ill, or cognitively impaired individuals who are not able to meet their own financial, medical, and legal affairs and do not have family or friends to take on that role. Under her leadership, the program has grown substantially, added staff, and is able to serve dozens of additional low-income clients.

Larson began her career as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Central Texas, where she worked primarily on family law, domestic violence, and custody cases representing low-income families and senior citizens. Being in private practice for more than 20 years allowed her to specialize in estate planning, probate, guardianship, elder law, and family law, and she also served as an attorney ad litem in legal aid cases.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and its co-sponsor, the State Bar of Texas, honored veterans throughout the state at the gala, which raised $348,450. Proceeds will be distributed by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and dedicated to the provision of civil legal services for low-income Texas veterans. These services assist in addressing legal issues related to marital problems, difficulties in getting medical or disability benefits, wrongful foreclosures, and other situations that may arise due to a veteran’s absence during military service. 

Houston Bar to celebrate Law Day with extended LegalLine hours, community service programs

The Houston Bar Association announced Wednesday it will offer extended hours for its free legal advice program, LegalLine, and sponsor public education programs in honor of Law Day, a national holiday recognizing the rule of law. 

The extended LegalLine program will be held from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 7. The public can call the Houston Bar Association at 713-759-1133, where volunteer attorneys will answer simple legal questions, give brief legal advice, or refer the caller to the appropriate social service or legal aid agency for further assistance.

This year’s Law Day theme is American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters. The association’s other Law Day-related programs are listed below.

  • From late April through early May, attorneys and judges will read the book Amelia Bedelia’s First Vote to elementary students in 100 classrooms throughout school districts and private schools in Harris County. For participating schools, contact Tara Shockley at 713-759-1133 or taras@hba.org.
  • On May 1, HBA President David Chaumette, Harris County Administrative Judge Robert Schaffer, and District Clerk Chris Daniel will pass out pocket-size copies of the Constitution to all citizens who report for jury duty at the Harris County Jury Assembly Room.
  • Also on May 1, the HBA and the Harris County judges will present the annual Bench Bar Pro Bono Awards for outstanding pro bono legal services to law firms, a corporation, and an individual in a noon ceremony at the Civil Courthouse.
  • Attorney/judge teams will hold interactive “Dialogues” on the importance of voting in a number of high school classes in late April through mid-May.
  • Law Day posters created by elementary and middle school students will be on display in several office buildings and courthouses in downtown Houston from April 28 to May 9.


ABLA holds first pro bono clinic based on SBOT's Care Kit









On Nov. 9, the Austin Black Lawyers Association hosted its first free legal clinic based on the State Bar of Texas’s Care Kit that encourages lawyers to engage in pro bono work.

Rudolph Metayer, president of ABLA, said he hoped the clinic would achieve one simple goal: to help the community. “It is my personal opinion that [lawyers] want to do what is right,” said Metayer. “The problem is that, I think just because we’re so busy, we don’t always have the ability to do so. The [Care Kit] played a vital role.”

Volunteer lawyers with ABLA and the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid nonprofit met with about 38 community members in just four hours to discuss matters concerning family law, bankruptcy, wills and estate, and landlord/tenant law. Although impossible to solve a legal matter during a short 30-minute consultation, clients left the ABLA clinic with more knowledge and direction for moving forward.

“I have called some attorneys, and they quoted me $2,000 to $5,000 to deal with a case like mine,” said Jacqueline Fisher of Round Rock, who sat down with Metayer at the clinic to discuss a child custody case. “So for him to give me a [phone] number for Legal Aid actually helps me out a lot. I know now what I need to do to take care of my case.”

SBOT, legal aid groups to offer free family law CLE event

Attorneys can take advantage of a free family law CLE event in five Texas cities in September and October.

The State Bar of Texas and legal aid organizations are partnering to offer Family Law Essentials: Giving Back to Your Community, starting Thursday in El Paso. The event will also take place in Amarillo, San Marcos, Longview, and Abilene.

A full schedule appears below.

Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013

Commissioner’s Court
El Paso County Courthouse

500 E. San Antonio, 3rd Floor
El Paso, Texas 79901

—Free CLE for attorneys who pledge to take two pro bono cases within the next year.
—CLE credit includes 7.25 hours, of which 1.25 hours is ethics.
—Moderator: Frederick X. “Fred” Walker, SBOT Family Law Section coordinator
—Coordinator: Graciela Martinez, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, El Paso Office

To register or for more information, please contact Graciela Martinez by phone at 915-585-5115 or by email at gmartinez@trla.org.


Friday, Sept. 13, 2013

Eagle Centre Building 

Basement Training Room
112 SW 8th St.
Amarillo, Texas 79101

—Free CLE for attorneys who pledge to take two pro bono cases within the next year.
—CLE credit includes 7.25 hours, of which 1.25 hours is ethics.
—Moderators: Latrelle Bright Joy and Anna McKim, SBOT Family Law Section members
—Coordinator: Luisa Vigil, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Amarillo Office

To register or for more information, please contact Luisa Vigil by phone at 806-373-6808, ext. 6503, or by email at vigill@lanwt.org.


Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013

Hays County Government Center 

712 S. Stagecoach Trail
San Marcos, Texas 78666
—Free CLE for attorneys who pledge to take two pro bono cases within the next year.
—CLE credit includes 7.25 hours, of which 1.25 hours is ethics.
—Moderators: Christine Trujillo and Craig Haston, SBOT Family Law Section members
—Coordinator: Karen Gilbert, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Austin Office

To register or for more information, please contact Karen Gilbert by phone at 512-374-2770 or by email at kgilbert@trla.org.


Friday, Sept. 27, 2013

Good Shepherd Medical Center’s Institute for Healthy Living
3133 Good Shepherd Way
Longview, Texas 75605

—Free CLE for attorneys who pledge to take two pro bono cases within the next year.
—CLE credit includes 7.25 hours, of which 1.25 hours is ethics.
—Moderator: Bruce Bain, SBOT Family Law Section coordinator
—Coordinator: Dana Bias, Lone Star Legal Aid, Nacogdoches Office

To register or for more information, please contact Dana Bias by phone at 936-560-1455, ext. 1522, or by email at Dbias@lonestarlegal.org.


Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013

Taylor County Courthouse

Central Jury Room

300 Oak St.
Abilene, Texas 79602
—Free CLE for attorneys who pledge to take two pro bono cases within the next year.
—CLE credit includes 7.25 hours, of which 1.25 hours is ethics.
—Moderator: Theodore A. “Tip” Hargrove, SBOT Family Law Section
—Coordinator: John W. Kennedy, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Abilene Office

To register or for more information, please contact John Kennedy by phone at 325-677-8591, ext. 2500, or by email at kennedyj@lanwt.org.

Ferguson, Tottenham to Join Texas Access to Justice Foundation Board

Becky Baskin Ferguson of Midland and Terry O. Tottenham of Austin have been appointed to serve on the Texas Access to Justice Foundation Board of Directors, the foundation announced Wednesday.

Ferguson and Tottenham were appointed to three-year terms to the foundation, which provides grant funding for civil legal aid in Texas. The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors approved the appointments. 
Ferguson has spent more than 30 years in communications and public service in Midland. She recently served a three-year term as a public member on the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors and currently serves on the State Bar’s Advertising Review Committee.
Tottenham, of counsel to Norton Rose Fulbright, is certified in personal injury and civil trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. A former president of the State Bar of Texas, he initiated a statewide coalition of lawyers who provide pro bono services to needy veterans and their families.
Visit the Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s website for more information on the appointments.


TAJF grant application deadline for legal aid to veterans extended to May 1

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) has extended the application due date until May 1, 2013 for proposals to fund legal aid programs that provide civil legal services for low-income Texas veterans. Proceeds from the Champions of Justice Gala for Veterans have been designated to fund these grants. 

These funds are to address the increased demand for legal services at a time when many veterans are returning from the war in Afghanistan. Selected applicants will help increase, support and deliver free civil legal services that help low-income Texas veterans with many critical civil legal services in matters such as family law, employment, housing, consumer, bankruptcy and probate as well as including filing claims for compensation or pensions from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Legal assistance is also needed for representing veterans in filing claims for indigent veterans suffering from service-connected disabilities. The scope of work to be funded can also help family members of living or deceased veterans apply for VA benefits. 

Grant applications will be submitted online through the TAJF web grants online system which will require applicants who are not existing grantees to register and once approved, complete the online application and submit it by the due date of Wednesday May 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm. You can access the online grants system by going to grants.tajf.org. For more information, contact Jonathan Vickery at jvickery@teajf.org or 1-800-252-3401 ext. 110

Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas 60th anniversary celebration

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation will present the Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award  to Rep. Jim Pitts on Feb. 24, in Waxahachie. Justice Nathan L. Hecht will make the award presentation at 5:30 p.m. during the 60th Anniversary Celebration and Open House of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. Please join us for this event.

What: LANWT Turns 60 Celebration: Waxahachie. Special Guests: Justice Nathan L. Hecht will present the Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award to Representative Jim Pitts. The presentation will begin at 5:30 pm.

Where: 110 E. Main Street, Suite 200, Waxahachie

When: Friday, February 24, 2012 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm

Description: Our journey began 60 years ago, when 11 lawyers decided that legal advice and aid should be available to anyone, regardless of ability to pay. From that vision came Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, the fifth-largest legal services program in the United States. Please join our Chief Executive Officer, staff, attorneys, board members, volunteers and members of the community in celebrating the vision of our founders while learning more about our firm and the work that we do in the Waxahachie and surrounding communities.

Contacts: Jane Fritz, 817-339-5309 or fritzj@lanwt.org.

Click here for more information.

Law Students selected for Texas Access to Justice Commission internships

Texas Access to Justice Commission Logo

Fourteen law students from around the country have been selected to participate in the Access to Justice Summer Internship Program sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Commission, in partnership with six Texas legal aid providers. The program encourages students to help address the civil legal problems of underserved individuals and communities, and to educate future attorneys about those problems.

The Access to Justice Internship Program provides a unique opportunity for law students to participate in an internship with nonprofit providers of civil legal services located in areas without a local law school. The program particularly benefits rural and underserved parts of Texas that receive much needed help in the delivery of legal aid for low-income Texans.

Students Selected to Participate in Program

The students, their law school, and the legal aid organization where they will be interning are as follows:

  • Lee Roy Calderon, Baylor Law School, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Edinburg
  • Brittany Cravens, Baylor Law School, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Waxahachie
  • Brittany Wray, Baylor Law School, Lone Star Legal Aid, Angleton
  • Wendi Whipkey, Florida Coastal School of Law, Lone Star Legal Aid, Nacogdoches
  • Erin Kee, South Texas College of Law, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Eagle Pass
  • Jason Garcia, Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Corpus Christi
  • Colleen Lowry, Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Weslaco
  • Markita Samuel, Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, El Paso
  • Vanessa Smithwick, Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Corpus Christi
  • James Palomo, Texas Tech University School of Law, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Plainview
  • Paul G. Thomas III, University of Houston Law Center, Lone Star Legal Aid, Galveston
  • Nakis Urfi, University of Houston Law Center, Lone Star Legal Aid, Nacogdoches
  • April Kirkendall, University of Nebraska College of Law, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Laredo
  • Adriana Bole, University of Texas School of Law, Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, El Paso
About the Internships

Each law student will receive hands-on training by working with accomplished lawyers and providing direct legal services to low-income clients, while learning about access to justice matters, legal decision-making, advocacy skills, attorney-client relationships and legal institutions. A supervising attorney will provide the law student with a variety of experiences and assignments, including significant research and writing.

The internships are open to law school students attending law school throughout the country. A stipend is provided to each student to help defray living expenses, and students must commit to a 10-week placement.

About the Texas Access to Justice Commission

The Supreme Court of Texas created the Texas Access to Justice Commission in 2001 to increase services for people who need legal help but may not be able to afford it or find it. The Commission’s goals include reducing barriers to the justice system and increasing resources and funding for legal aid.

One legal aid lawyer is available for approximately every 10,838 Texans who qualify. To be eligible for legal aid, an individual must earn no more than $13,613 a year. For a family of four, the household income cannot exceed $27,938.

For more information, please visit www.TexasATJ.org.

Chairman of LSC Board of Directors urges lawyers to observe National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. John G. Levi, Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Board of Directors, made a statement urging lawyers to join the LSC in observing this month, asking lawyers for their continuing support of local legal aid programs.

His statement explains that domestic violence occurs more often in households facing economic distress. This is especially prominent during our current economic downturn. Levi explains that a third of all cases handled by LSC-funded programs throughout the country involve family law issues, including domestic violence. He says that "at the local level, legal aid programs are partners in efforts to provide comprehensive, coordinated services to assist victims in attaining long-term self-sufficiency and independence from abuse."

Levi states that legal aid lawyers who work throughout the country in the non-profit programs funded by the LSC are "on the front lines in our nation's effort to protect victims of domestic violence and restore them to lives of safety and security." He explains, "Our partners at the national level include the United States Department of Justice, which provides funding to many of our programs through the Violence Against Women Act. Still, the nonprofit programs funded by LSC need far greater resources to adequately address this serious national problem. Access to civil legal aid is vital to our continuing progress to reduce and prevent domestic abuse."

For more information on the Legal Services Corporation and how you can help, please visit the LSC website at http://www.lsc.gov/index.php.

Legal Services Corporation chair comments on poverty data

John G. Levi, chairman to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), posted a statement on the LSC website today regarding the 2009 statistics on poverty released by the Census Bureau. According to the report, more Americans qualify for LSC assistance due to lower incomes than in previous years.

Levi points out that LSC-funded agencies already don't have enough resources to offer assistance to everyone who seeks legal help. He encourages "the national legal community to increase its volunteer pro bono work at LSC programs."

Read the entire statement at the LSC website.